For the past 10 years, we’ve been influenced by progress in the telecommunications industry with cell phones, Blackberries, various personal digital assistants (PDAs) and the Internet. These tools are steadily entering and influencing our everyday lives. Wireless technology is no longer simply being used as a G2G communication tool, but is becoming a standard vehicle for B2B, B2C, G2C and C2C while becoming an integral part of citizens’ lives. We walk into a coffee shop and see employees working wirelessly at obscure hours of the day on one side of the room; on the other, a group of teenagers are sending instant text messages to confirm the next party. Just as the Internet reshaped both business processes and social relationships, and spawned whole new industries, wireless technology will have the same impact and cause significant changes throughout the next decade.
If we look at the telecommunications tools that will influence society tomorrow, we can definitely say that two of the most prominent ones are wireless and mobile technologies. The initial use of wireless applications included e-mail-based notification services or one-way communication subscriptions to specific information. As people become more comfortable with this technology, we will have more and more transactional, two-way communication services available through the wireless channel.
The growth of wireless sales in handsets and interactive pagers in Canada and the United States has increased steadily for the past three years, illustrating the consumer’s desire to stay in touch, unfettered by geography.
However, wireless and m-commerce are still in their infancy, due in part to a lack of industry structure and standards. The result is a period of volatility and consolidation – even as citizens still expect and demand wireless service. The industry is begging for a leader to develop a trusted direction, though few companies in the private sector have shown they are prepared to volunteer for the job.
The Path Once Travelled
In the late 1990s, the explosion of the Internet took the industrialized world by storm, changing the way people communicated and reshaping the way companies and organizations did business. It quickly became an integral and indispensable part of our lives. In response, the federal government made a commitment in the 1999 Speech from the Throne to become “known around the world as the government most connected to its citizens, with Canadians able to access all government information and services online at the time and place of their choosing.” The resulting Government On-line initiative has enabled Canadians to access information by telephone, through the Internet or in person. In fact, 83 per cent of Canadians seeking government information in 2002 used the Internet, according to Ekos.
Based on the Accenture global wireless subscriber forecast, the number of mobile Internet users and computer Internet users will be about equal by 2005.
As the number of wireless applications and devices continues to grow along with the interest in wireless among Canadians, it is anticipated that citizens will expect to be able to access e-government services via a wireless channel.
Thus, the true question is: Can the Government of Canada afford not to invest in wireless?
Should Government Invest in Wireless?
Research indicates that client-centric services delivered through wireless devices and mobile applications better serve the public for the following reasons:
Convenience – clients can access information when and where they want;
Quick retrieval – clients can access information and services faster;
Reduced costs for businesses – office space is reduced as employees work from home, telework centres, coffee shops, etc.;
Up-to-date information – information can be instantly updated in response to the latest developments and news; and,
Faster decision-making – clients can make educated decisions instantly.
Wireless devices and applications will certainly benefit citizens and modernize the way in which society works and plays. To ensure that citizens are able to take advantage of the benefits offered by wireless, government should invest in wireless policy and technology infrastructure. Having said this, some departments have already taken steps to ensure clients are benefiting from the existing wireless environment.
Client-Centricity – Evolving Daily
The Government of Canada (GoC) has established a Wireless Working Group to contribute to the evolution of the multi-channel service delivery strategy to improve public access to government information. The group’s mandate is to promote awareness and understanding of the wireless medium as a means to access GoC services and information. Key departmental members include Communication Canada, Human Resources Development Canada (HRDC), the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT), Public Works and Government Services Canada (PWGSC), the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency (CCRA), Industry Canada (IC) and Statistics Canada. This group has initiated several projects, the major one being the development of a Wireless Portal (www.gc.ca), which is designed specifically as a wireless medium with the vision of being the single point of access to wireless information and services from across government departments and agencies.
Melissa Teasdale of Communication Canada, chair of the Wireless Working Group, says, “Although the portal has received tremendous positive feedback from users via e-mail and public opinion research, it is a constant hurdle to ensure that the portal is accessible to older devices that are still in use by members of the public, while keeping up with new and emerging technologies and devices.” As soon as the pace of evolution slows down and the industry addresses some of the significant hurdles, it will be easier to satisfy the appetite for wireless.
Problems and Opportunities
Research on the wireless industry has identified a number of problems whose solutions could generate significant opportunities for governnment. They include:
1 Standards. Due to the immaturity of the industry, wireless is full of competing standards and acronyms. For example, Palm OS battles with Windows CE; 2G cellular networks offer three different standards – Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA), Time Division Multiple Access (TDMA), and Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM). And the list goes on. Wireless applications must be designed to work with one or more of these standards, but multiple standards limits functionality. Although WAP1 and WAP2 standards exist, industry has taken its time to adopt them.
Opportunity for Government –The Government of Canada should encourage the private sector to adopt the common WAP1 and WAP2 standards for wireless technologies. These standards will ensure that no matter what device a user has, s/he will have access to the majority of information presented in wireless format.
2 Accessibility . As government organizations pursue plans to provide wireless access to m-government information and services, they should also make the information more accessible for all citizens via the Web and other communications technologies. For example, Voice Extensible Markup Language (VoiceXML) protocol is being developed to make information on Web sites accessible to people with disabilities by telephone.
Opportunity for Government – The government is already committed to a multilateral accessibility agenda. With the advent of wireless technologies, GoC policy and decision makers should ensure the inclusion of wireless and mobile issues in this agenda.
3 Privacy and Security. Wireless data, traveling over open airwaves, is easily intercepted. Mobile devices are susceptible to fraud, theft and misuse and pose serious security risks if they contain sensitive data or have persistent connections to a company network. A combination of techniques, from cryptography to authentication servers, firewalls, biometrics and virtual private networks can help protect wireless applications, data, and devices from security breaches.
Opportunity for Government – The privacy and security measures within government represent a mix of policy, standards, technology (including public key infrastructure (PKI) and secure channel) and awareness training. The GoC should ensure that these are in place prior to expanding and offering its information and services in wireless format.
4 Bandwidth. Some wireless clients have difficulty downloading the content from sites. Wireless network bandwidth varies considerably and few approach the speeds to which wired workers are accustomed. Although throughput is increasing, widespread deployment of mobile applications outside the four walls of a building won’t be achieved until 3G cellular networks are expanded.
Opportunity for Government – In most cases, big cities have an established wireless infrastructure; most remote rural areas, however, do not. In order to provide equal access to all Canadians regardless of their location, the GoC should contribute to wireless infrastructure projects, particularly in rural areas.
5 Device Limitations. A typical mobile device does not support all applications found on a desktop. When developers design wireless applications they need to use completely different paradigms to accommodate device limitations. For instance, screen size and resolution determine the volume and information type that can be presented effectively. Equally, keyboard size or handwriting-recognition schemes direct the types of interactions possible.
Opportunity for Government – The government should partner with and contribute to the private sector in the area of wireless and mobile R&D initiatives to explore possible solutions.
Clearly, before government or the private sector can satisfy the potential wireless market, the above issues need to be addressed more fully. The wireless industry and its customers are wandering through an ill-defined landscape, seeking guideposts and waiting for a leader to address these issues. The GoC’s Wireless Working Group has taken on part of this task, initiating several steps to satisfying the demands of its mobile audience, but issues like accessibility and security are too important to be left to an ad hoc evolutionary process.
Support vital to wireless projects: VP
The support of a specific government department or business unit is one of the main keys to creating a successful business case for wireless solutions.
This is the advice Jon Barry, a vice-president with Fujitsu Consulting (Canada) Inc., has for government executives who are looking to launch a wireless technology project.
“First and foremost look at a specific business unit sponsorship or a department sponsorship,” Barry said in a recent interview. “Lacking a specific business unit sponsorship is a death knell for a project.”
In addition to having a department or agency supporting a project, Barry said a wireless initiative needs to have a government executive and a government IT representative who are familiar with the technology.
“It’s almost impossible to come up with a business case unless you have some idea of what’s out there and how to pull these things together,” he said.
At Fujitsu Consulting, Barry said they use the term “DNA” to explain the main aspects of a wireless solution that project leaders need to be aware of. These include: the device, the network, the application and the architecture.
“We use the ‘A’ twice,” he said jokingly.
The final piece of advice Barry has for creating a wireless business case is not to focus solely on productivity or efficiency components.
“The reason I say that is…you run into a big change management issue,” he said. “If employees think you’re building something to track them, or make them more efficient, or [they] have the perception you’re going to make them do more work, [then] you can run into an issue.
“The successful business cases we’ve seen have had good components of customer service, for example. Something that significantly improves things for the people the government is servicing.”